Don’t forget about Kent

First published on ProgressOnline

Last night I was with the Labour club at Kent University, a great group of people keen to win back their local council for Labour and fighting to keep us on the southern political landscape. What struck me on my fifth visit to Kent since we lost the general election, is how few others have made the same journey.

Those seats Labour lost in the Midlands and the M4 corridor have scores of Labour MPs travelling through them as they return to our heartlands. If Swindon, Burton or Sherwood are holding a CLP meeting, fundraiser or campaign day, numerous shadow cabinet members let alone backbench colleagues will be travelling through or very near twice a week as they visit their constituencies in Scotland, Wales and northern England. The challenge we face in many of the seats that we must win back at the next election, places like Crawley, Brighton, Hove, and all those in Kent (from Medway to Dover), Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk, is compounded by the fact that they have no Labour MP who travels past (or even near) on a regular basis.

Until we recognise this and our parliamentary team take a different approach we will never be match fit and ready to take out this odious coalition.

The next election is going to be Labour’s hardest for a generation – far harder than 2010 as so many Labour people espouse. In Labour’s history, every time we lose power – bar one – we lose more seats the election after. 1983 was worse than 1979.

Winning back is never easy for Labour. This was made abundantly clear by Joan Ryan’s piece for Progress magazine, ‘The hidden landslide’. In many seats that Labour won and held since 1997, we are now in third place. In more, Tory majorities make them look more like safe seats than the battlegrounds seats we need them to be.

One simple explanation for the massive swing against Labour in these seats is the advantage of incumbency lost by Labour and gained by its new Tory master. If this happens again in the 94 seats we lost in 2010 we could look further rather than nearer from government on 7 May 2015. When you add this to the fact that none of our 2005 losses are in our top 100 targets – the challenge seems even greater!

Currently the Labour party is weaning itself away from its obsession with the Liberal end of this Tory-led coalition – but there is still more to do. The Labour party is acting like a ‘woman scorned’, as if the Liberals are having some kind of illicit affair. While none of us likes the choice they made, we cannot be led by our hearts and must campaign with our heads. It will be fun to watch us win Sheffield, Newcastle and other northern cities from the Liberal Democrats, but ultimately it is votes won from Tories in the south and midlands, that hold the only prize worth winning in 2015 – Labour back in government.

This needs to be our challenge. Now the Lib Dem vote has collapsed, Labour has two equally important. Firstly to give those people a reason to vote Labour (this will be slightly delayed by our policy review) and secondly to stop them going to the Tories. Every cut blamed on the Conservatives, every choice defined against Cameron, and every policy a dividing line with the majority stake in this coalition of cuts.

As Peter Kellner points out there will be no magic formula for this. However, New Labour does provide the best template for going forward. At its best, it separates our ideological attachment to ends and focused heavily on what would deliver the social justice we desire in a way that embraces modernity and is seen to be on the public’s side. We know how to win the arguments on economic competence, crime, and public service reform, but we now need to make sure that we are out there every day, in places like Great Yarmouth, Gillingham and Hove, making that case until May 2015.

The Progress Speaker List is here to help if you are looking for someone to speak at a CLP meeting, fundraiser or any other local Labour event.

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Richard Angell is deputy director of Progress

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Photo: diamond geezer

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